Monday, February 28th, 2011
Real Intercultural Family in Norway: English, Farsi and Norwegian
Welcome Tine and Kambiz!
Where are you from?
Tine: Åndalsnes, Norway
Where do you currently live?
Which countries have you lived in since you’ve been together?
Egypt, Tajikistan and Norway
Tine: We first lived in Tajikistan together. Then my job moved us to Egypt (after one year in Tajikistan). We had been married one year at that time. We were in Egypt 2.5 years then moved to Norway.
How did you meet?
Tine: We met via work. He was working for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) when I was working for the United Nations International Strategies for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) and we had a common project on disaster reduction and management in Central Asia. We talked on the phone a lot–I was in Tajikistan and he was in Iran coordinating the project. Although, we had talked a lot before I went to Iran, Iran was the first time we met.
I wasn’t interested in him on the phone. So then I went to Iran for a conference. It was really a coincidence as I wasn’t supposed to go. I had only just arrived in Tajikistan. They decided at the last minute that I should go to this conference. So in two days, they had to arrange an Iranian visa–there was an extremely slim chance it would go through.
Kambiz: At the last minute, they sent her to Iran. Somehow she made it. When we met, I was eating dates. I told her she could have as many dates as she wanted.
Tine: And I thought, oh my god, not another one of these flirts.
Kambiz: She thought I was so boring as she basically just ignored my attempts on being funny but then we really hit it off and spent a lot of time together and talked about everything in life. We kept closely in contact after she left and then she invited me to Tajikistan.
Tine: I invited you or you invited yourself?
After he came to Tajikistan, we continued where we left it in Iran and we became really close. It was a very special experience as in spite of all the difference we had and the limited time together, we still were so close. Later, Kambiz worked for Doctors Without Borders in Africa and Southeast Asia and it became difficult to meet. We started to question our common future and ended the relationship. After a half year or so we got back together and decided to take the relationship the whole way, and got married within the year.
Kambiz: When you are not committed to someone, you think what is best for you. We both did our own jobs and were into our own careers. The relationship was so stuck. Either we needed to get married or forget about it.
How old is your child and where was she born?
Tine: Ella Artemis will be one year on March 11, 2011. She was born in Oslo. In Norway, you get 58 weeks maternity at 80% of your pay or 48 weeks maternity at 100% of your pay. It is paid for by the government not by the company but over a certain amount, the company is contributing as well. We also have two dogs from Egypt so it is a complete multicultural family.
Kambiz: In general, the money doesn’t come from the company so if you’re pregnant and you go on leave, the company can easily get a replacement without paying two salaries.
The maternity policy in Norway is amazing.
Kambiz: Yes, but at the same time it is minus 11 degrees Celsius here.
What passports does your child hold?
Tine: None at this stage but she will have the Norwegian and Iranian this week. Kambiz is going to Iran in March and he will take Ella. His father and mother are in Iran.
What languages do you speak together?
Tine: English most of the time and we try to integrate some Norwegian. We also have words in Farsi we use–words you don’t have in English or Norwegian. We probably speak 5% Norwegian together but we are trying to increase. Kambiz understands Norwegian quite well (he started learning when they moved to Norway) but it is difficult for him to express himself. Often I say something in Norwegian and he answers in English.
What languages do you speak to your child?
Tine: I speak only Norwegian. Kambiz speaks mostly English and a little Farsi.
Kambiz: For me, it is important Ella knows English as early as possible.
Tine: He wants her to learn English from the beginning in case we move for example. But her uncle and grandparents speak only in Farsi to her.
Kambiz: I would like her to learn Farsi but for me, the first priority is English, even more so than Norwegian. Norwegian and Farsi she will get anyway. As she gets older, she will spend summers with my parents in Iran. But the English, if you want to work internationally like us, then good English is something you need.
Tine: We put the TV on in English. Later on we might read to her in English, Norwegian and Farsi. For me, it’s important she reads classical Norwegian/Scandinavian children’s literature. So she knows what’s popular in the culture.
So the plan is to have her be trilingual?
Tine: He wants her to learn Spanish or French too. In Norway, when you are 12-13, you have to choose a third language (English they start learning from age six). So then it’s six years with a second foreign language. So for Ella, that will hopefully be French, Spanish or Italian.
What languages do you each speak?
Tine: Norwegian, English, French and some Russian that I have probably mostly forgotten. In Tajikistan, I managed in Russian.
Kambiz: English, Farsi, Azeri (Turkish) and some Norwegian. My mom is from an Azeri tribe in Iran and they speak Azeri which is very similar to Turkish. Azeri belongs to the Turkish language group. The languages are as close together as Scandinavian languages.
What religion is your family?
Kambiz: I’m culturally Muslim but I don’t believe that much anymore in religion. As long as you are spiritual and a good person, it’s good. You don’t need to be Muslim or Jewish or Christian to go to heaven. It’s important to be a good person. I avoid all the extremists.
Tine: I believe in God, but not specific books (religions). If He is a God, He’s grand enough to see through cultural rituals related to religion and He sees deeper, to your substance. I think Ella will be raised like most Norwegian children, without a strong religion. Kambiz is not practicing.
So Norwegian kids aren’t raised with a strong sense of religion?
Tine: Norway is a Christian country by constitution and in school you have prayer and song each morning. You have Christianity as a subject in school but Norwegians aren’t really practicing their religion. It’s not like in the U.S. Norwegians are very relaxed about many things, including religion. Somehow it’s not an issue.
Norway is very tolerant towards other religious groups, as long as they are not fanatic. In general in Norway, we are against extremism. Many immigrants in Norway are coming from poor areas of Somalia and Pakistan, and they protect very strongly their own religion. And for Norwegians, this doesn’t make sense. Some don’t want to work in Norwegian supermarkets because they sell pork and beer while they receive Norwegian taxpayer benefits. Norwegians are not so tolerant about this. So it depends on the type of immigrants.
Kambiz: In general, Norway is very tolerant in terms of respecting human rights. For example, there are many Islamic fundamentalists seeking asylum in Norway and Norway is providing it.
What are some of your cultural differences?
Kambiz: In general, we are very compatible and both flexible. From Tine’s side about me, it’s that I’m not respecting time as every other Iranian guy in the world. In Norway, 3 means 3 sharp. In Iran, 3 means 2:30 or 4. Somehow, I miss metros and stuff like this.
What have been your major challenges as an intercultural family?
Kambiz: Some of the cultural stuff. I don’t understand why people spend so much money for Christmas when they can buy the same computer at half price after Christmas. These things, like…
Tine: …like Christmas for example. This is a very strong tradition because winter is long, dark and cold in Norway. You need this celebration as a break from it. Even if now it’s a Christian celebration, the religious aspect is not really what is most prominent. It’s a tradition that existed thousands of years before, from pre-Christian time. You don’t call it Santa Claus, it’s a small elf; they are special creatures living in farm houses. If you treat them well, they leave a present. It’s more than just Christian or commercial. Kambiz has not grown up with this aspect of culture. He doesn’t understand the decorations, why the dinner is a certain way. I don’t understand his Nowruz in March, their New Year. It’s very similar to Christmas in what a big deal it is.
Kambiz: You have things from your childhood that have no meaning for a foreigner.
Tine: It’s not exactly a problem, but it’s there. It’s an intercultural thing.
Kambiz: Another example is I would like to share some of the poems and things with her in Farsi but it’s not the same meaning in translation.
Tine: The biggest problem that we might have had has been jobs. To find jobs, at the same time and in the same place. It’s a challenge being from two different countries.
For example, when we were in Egypt, Egypt and Iran have broken diplomatic relations so it was very hard for him career wise. Although he’s a Medical Doctor with a degree from Iran and two additional Masters in Public Health Disaster Medicine and Community Medicine (one Master’s from Sweden and the other from Italy), he had trouble getting his degrees recognized in both Egypt and now Norway. So he decided to go back to school in Egypt to become an anesthesiologist. He got a place at university and they never gave him security clearance. He waited for a year with them promising him it each week.
What have been your greatest joys as an intercultural family?
Kambiz: One good thing we can say about each other is that somehow we do not feel that much different. We don’t feel I am Iranian and she is Norwegian. Let’s say I’m like Obama, he’s black but not black. That is how I am. If I were a practicing Muslim, it would be more difficult.
Tine: We don’t think about ourselves as a multicultural family.
Kambiz: The multi-culture gives you a different point of view, which is very good. I can see through the eyes of a Middle Easterner and Tine, as a Scandinavian, can see things through a different angle. When we compare to our friends, we see our friends are on the same mainstream of society (Iranian with Iranian, Norwegian with Norwegian).
Tine: In Norway, it not very common to have mixed couples because it’s a very homogenous society. We have a lot of interesting conversations together because of that. We can broaden each other’s horizons somehow. We also see more of the complexity in things. Using the case of Egypt and because we have different backgrounds, the way we analyze the news is different than what you see on news channels. We are able to carry discussions longer.
Kambiz also comes from a very international family. All his aunts and uncles studied abroad. His father has a PhD from Italy. His great-grandfather has a PhD from France in the 1890s. So they brought that back to Iran with them.
Thank you Tine and Kambiz!
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